Religion and Resistance in Southeast Asia

Professor of Political and Social Change Paul Hutchcroft5, Assistant Professor Steven Oliver2, Postdoctoral Fellow Elvin Ong1, Assistant Professor Risa Toha2, Assistant Professor Walid Abdullah3, Assistant Professor Sebastian Dettman4

1University Of British Columbia, , Canada, 2Yale-NUS College, , Singapore, 3Nanyang Technological University, , Singapore, 4Singapore Management University, , Singapore, 5The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Chair: Elvin Ong


In Southeast Asia, democracy has come under severe strain as populist leaders sought to loosen the democratic constraints on their power. At the same time, authoritarianism has remained entrenched where dominant governments continue wielding their powers to undermine challenges to their rule. Where and why has popular resistance succeeded or failed in opposing these broad political developments? For a region where religion plays a crucial role in everyday lives, to what extent has religious practices and authorities abetted or thwarted these popular resistance movements? This panel, led by a senior scholar of Southeast Asian politics, brings together a diverse group of young scholars using a range of methodologies to answer these questions. Ong reaches back into history to explain why opposition parties successfully formed an alliance to oppose Marcos but not a similarly autocratic regime in South Korea. Dettman traces the long arch of opposition party strategy in Malaysia over two decades to explain how the opposition alliance finally toppled the dominant BN government in 2018. Toha uses original survey data to demonstrate why religiously conservative Indonesians protest more than progressives. Abdullah explains how the Singaporean state exploits this variation within a religious community to entrench its power.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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